Tom Ford Oud Wood. Amouage Interlude Man. Louis Vuitton Ombre Nomade.
What do all these popular releases have in common?
You guessed it, they all contain the mythical fragrance note of Oud, also known as Oudh or Agarwood (although some may contain a synthetic replica).
What makes this ingredient so expensive, causing it to reach prices of $100,000 per kilogram?
This video summarises that Oud comes from the bark of the Aquilaria genus of trees, found pre-dominantly in South-eastern Asia.
Although Oud comes in many forms and has many uses such as in medicine, incense and religion, we will be focusing primarily on its use in perfumery in this article.
Fragrantica describes the scent profile of Oud as “a rich, musty woody-nutty scent”.
Although Oud from different countries will differ in their scent profile, I would personally describe Oud generally as :
- Animalic - almost ‘dirty’ smelling
- Slightly sweet
- ‘Magical’ in a way that can only be appreciated by smelling the ingredient
The mystique of Oud...
The story of Oud production begins when the Aquilaria tree’s bark is infected by certain bacteria or parasites, a process that happens scarcely in nature through a complex process.
In this rare occurrence, the tree produces a resin to protect itself against this infection in its trunk, causing the usually pale colour of the bark to darken.
These dark areas of the trunk are agarwood and will form over a period of years.
The Aquilaria usual pale bark vs dark agarwood
What causes agarwood to be so expensive?
It comes down to three main points :
- Rarity – Approximately only 2% of Aquilaria trees will have the right conditions of producing agarwood
- Supply and demand – There is a rising demand for Oud, while there is a decreasing supply due to the trees being over exploited, causing them to be endangered.
- Labour cost – it is intensive to identify and carve out oud from selected trees
Demand for Oud is going up...
Oud will be carved out in many raw forms and be utilised in different ways such as for producing essential oil, being burned for incense and scenting accessories.
Due to this genus of tress being critically endangered, perfume brands are opting for ‘synthetic’ replications of Oud at a more affordable price.
From personal experience and what you will often hear, is that there is still a large difference between synthetic and real oud, although synthetic oud-based fragrances can be pleasant.
With the existence of the Aquilaria trees in nature being on the line, do you think the industry should make more effort to switch to synthetic Oud?
My recommendation is that any ‘Oud’ fragrance being sold under $100, you should be highly suspicious whether it contains the real material.
The fragrances containing actual Oud essential oil are likely to only go up in price or become discontinued in the coming years as the material becomes more difficult to source.
Until next time,
Ash, A. (n.d.). First-grade agarwood can cost as much as $100,000 per kilogram. Why is it so expensive? [online] Business Insider. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/why-agarwood-is-so-expensive-oud-vietnam-2020-8?r=US&IR=T [Accessed 25 Jan. 2023].
www.sylvaine-delacourte.com. (n.d.). History of the oud in perfumery. [online] Available at: https://www.sylvaine-delacourte.com/en/blog/history-of-the-oud [Accessed 25 Jan. 2023].
TH Oud Vietnam - The Leading Agarwood Vietnam Supplier, Wholesale & Retail. (2020). How to determine agarwood grade? - TH Oud Vietnam. [online] Available at: https://agarwoodvietnamexport.com/how-to-determine-agarwood-grade/ [Accessed 25 Jan. 2023].
www.fragrantica.com. (n.d.). Agarwood (Oud) perfume ingredient, Agarwood (Oud) fragrance and essential oils Aquilaria agallocha i A. malaccensis (Thymelaeaceae). [online] Available at: https://www.fragrantica.com/notes/Agarwood-Oud-114.html [Accessed 25 Jan. 2023].